Career Strategy: Focus on Capabilities, Follow Your Passion

project management and ea

By Chris Potts, Work and Career Mentor for Enterprise Architects

Being an architect, working for enterprises, is a truly rewarding career.  It’s a journey of continual learning, impact and personal growth.  We get to innovate, inspire and lead architectural changes.  Our work is creative and collaborative – a mix of technical, cultural and political know-how that we develop initially through training, then by hands-on working with fellow architects and experienced mentors.

Building that career is a continuous, multi-faceted challenge.  Who we’ve worked for and where, roles we had, work we’ve done, the actual results we achieved – they’re all creating our unique and personal platform for the next career move and beyond.

The market out there for the work we do is dynamic, fragmented and evolving.  The longer that time goes on, the wider the diversity of architects that enterprise leaders are deciding they need.  Also, more precise and more focused, on the specific architectural challenges they’re facing, old and new, as the world aråound them is evolving, fast:  digitalisation, customer experience, sustainability, workplace flexibility and cybersecurity, to name just a few.  Architects who can shape doable answers to their enterprise’s big picture priorities, are the ones who leaders prize most.

That demand for diversity, precision and focus shows up, very clearly, in the increasing variety and narrowing scopes of enterprise architect jobs.  A list Sam Holcman’s compiled, only of roles that have “architect” in their job title, has 144 entries.  Number 145 on Sam’s list is already prepared, for whatever new “architect” job title anyone thinks of next.   You can see Sam’s list in this video, starting at 0:46.  While Sam and others are working on different ideas for compressing that kind of list, our safest career bet for now is that it could equally keep on expanding.

Let’s look at what all that means for your own career strategy, if – for example – you’re currently a software architect (number 118 on Sam’s list, they’re in alphabetical order).  By the way, it doesn’t have to be your official job title.  The first one I had, back in 1995, was Technical Specialist.  I was a data architect, really.  So, we’re talking here about the work you’re doing.

What is it about being a software architect, that you’re most passionate about?  Is it the subject, software?  Similarly, the question would be whether business is your passion if you’re a business architect, and so on – it’s the same question for all 144 jobs currently on Sam’s list.  Or, are you most passionate about being an architect whatever the subject?  One more option: is your passion about the one, specific architect role: being a software architect, business architect, and so on, period?

I think you can see where that takes us, already, in terms of what you might prefer as your next career move.  Follow your passion, the best that you can.  It might be within the same enterprise and location, or not.  That will depend on the range of roles and opportunities available when you’re ready, plus your appetite for moving-around to build up your career.

For certain, you’re an architect today, whatever you might choose to do next.  So the best career strategy is one that’ll keep you growing in the role you have now, and means you’ll have the most options later to follow your passion, while the world and jobs market keep-on changing around you.

So here’s a strategy suggestion:  focus on developing your core capabilities as an enterprise architect (that’s all 144+ subjects rolled up into one, enterprise, simply to differentiate us from the architects that work on other structures, like buildings, landscapes and ships).  As well as enhancing your performance now, those capabilities will be valuable whatever career choices you make.

A picture of our core capabilities, as architects, usually saves many words.  Here’s the one I use in my own work, and with the people I mentor:

Being an architect is primarily a leadership role, whatever our specialised subject.  We provide inspiration, thought-leadership and technical guidance to the people who invest in, or influence, the work that we do, to fellow architects, and to those who develop our work into real-world changes and outcomes.

Rather than take up space here defining what all those capabilities mean, I’d encourage you to explore what they mean just for you.  Although, there are two of them that if you Googled their meaning, do need clarifying in this context.  For all the others, it should be self-evident enough.  For example, if you Google “vision meaning” the second-listed answer is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom”.

Here are the two capabilities worth clarifying, given what you’d find if you Googled them:

  • Contextual Awareness. Remaining constantly alert to events and patterns in the enterprise’s external and internal environment, and how those may impact people’s decisions and actions.
  • Structural Assurance. Our governance capability, as architects: continual quality assurance, for the enterprise as-a-whole.  The specific, architectural qualities we’re assuring are Identity, Performance and Durability.  Those are derived from the Vitruvian Triad, as it’s best applied to designing enterprises.

Provided we focus on developing our core capabilities, and know what we’re most passionate about, we can achieve better results in our current work plus be more prepared for the role we choose next.  A win-win career strategy, both short- and long-term.

One last thought.  The capabilities we have that enterprise leaders most value are the ones at the top of my picture:  Influence and Vision.  Those are how they, and others, can realize the extraordinary contribution of our architects’ work, to their strategies, goals and investments and to the big picture, priority outcomes the enterprise continues to achieve.